Terminator: Dark Fate (15)****

Dir: Tim Miller

With: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis

Runtime: 128 minutes

Oh, the Terminator franchise. Rarely has a movie series taken us from the giddiest of highs to such desperate lows. After two dead-on-arrival attempts in the last decade to reenergise the 35-year-old saga, we’re back to basics here with the much ballyhooed return of creator James Cameron, albeit merely in a producing and story credit role. As such, Dark Fate is being sold as a direct sequel to his Terminator 2, which stands proud to this day amongst the greatest action movies ever made. No pressure, then.

When we left that film, Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and her son John had prevented nuclear Armageddon, judgement day. A stunning and shocking prologue set shortly after those events opens proceedings here, and then we’re straight to Mexico in more or less in the present day.

We stick closely to the preferred Terminator template of a seemingly unstoppable machine relentlessly hunting its target while someone in the know helps them survive. In this case it’s Dani (Natalia Reyes) who learns that she is being targeted by a lethal, shape-shifting terminator (Gabriel Luna), with Grace (Davis) sent back from what is now an alternative future to keep her safe for purposes that will later be explained.

It’s a film where its characters ask each other a lot of questions so that the audience can have the plot explained to them at the same time. It’s not slick, but the answers provided are fun and often surprising. Best to find out for yourself then how Sarah and later the original Terminator (Schwarzenegger) get caught up in the action as Dani and Grace embark on a succession of escapes from Luna that generally centre around finding creative ways to pummel him in the face.

Most of these sequences offer good levels of excitement, but it does suffer from that modern malady of, if in doubt, throw CGI at the problem, the irony of course being that it was T2 that pioneered the use of computer generated special effects back in the day. The difference then was that for every scene of Robert Patrick turning into liquid metal, there was a propulsive road chase that was unquestionably done for real. Here, the vehicular mayhem - and there’s plenty of it - has been liberally augmented with variable CG work.

It’s thrilling to see the return of much-loved characters, and Hamilton and Schwarzenegger are as good as ever, but the question then becomes, if it weren’t for their presence, would what’s on offer still be worthwhile? The three new characters, and the actors playing them, are strong enough to suggest that the answer is yes. Yet undoubtedly it’s when the two stars share the screen that Dark Fate really finds its purpose and we’re reminded, if it were ever needed, just how iconic they really are.